Wing walker Jane Wicker dies months after Columbus air show visit

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 23, 2013 

Three months after performing at the Thunder in the Valley Air Show in Columbus, wing walker Jane Wicker and her pilot Charlie Schwenker were killed instantly Saturday when their stunt plane crashed in flames at an Ohio air show.

"She will be missed among the whole air show community," said Robert Kemp, a past chairman for the Columbus event. "I felt like I had been kicked in the gut by a horse."

The crash of the 450 HP Stearman happened about 12:45 p.m. near Dayton, Ohio, in front of thousands of horrified spectators. No one else was injured.

A video posted on WHIO-TV shows the plane turn upside-down as Wicker sat on top of the wing. The plane then tilted and crashed to the ground, erupting into flames as spectators screamed.

Ian Hoyt, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot from Findlay, Ohio, was at the show with his girlfriend. He told The Associated Press he was taking photos as the plane passed by and had just raised his camera to take another shot.

"Then I realized they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground," he said.

He couldn't tell exactly what happened, but it appeared that the plane stalled and didn't have enough air speed, he said. He credited the pilot for steering clear of spectators and potentially saving lives.

The show was canceled for the rest of the day, but organizers said events would resume today. The National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating the crash.

After meeting Wicker several years ago, Kemp said he finally was able to get her to perform this year at the annual air show at the Columbus Airport.

"She was just an awesome performer," Kemp said. "She put on a fantastic show."

Kemp said he had a chance to ask Wicker how she became a wing walker in an air show.

"She told me she answered an ad in a magazine or newspaper," he said. "She said the first time she went up it was thrilling and beautiful and she just enjoyed it."

Kemp said Wicker and her pilot didn't take unneeded chances in performing here.

"She knew the risks," he said. "They know there is a risk involved in what they do. They know there are people who go to work and they don't enjoy what they're doing. She was fortunate to love what she was doing."

Joe Paull, a Ledger-Enquirer photographer, recalled Saturday how friendly Wicker was when he went on a flight above Columbus for pictures before the local air show.

"I immediately recognized her friendly, calm yet outgoing personality the minute I met her," Paull said. "She wasn't nervous about walking on the wing, she was excited. It was what she loved to do. I think it gave her the feeling that she was really flying, and she said it was a great way to get a tour of each new city she visits."

Paull said her act left him amazed.

"Not too many people I know would go wing walking, so to see this woman do this put me in a state of awe," he said. "I actually got a little self conscious because I was wearing a head mounted camera and I was staring at her the whole time. So I kind of gazed downward and ruined the second half of the video because I cut her out of the frame."

Here's a video of Wicker that Paull filmed in March:

The annual air show will continue next year in Columbus on the third weekend in March, Kemp said.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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